Ah, winter. Fuzzy horses dot the horizon of a snowy landscape that merits display in an art gallery. People snuggle in fuzzy crocheted blankets around blazing fires clutching mugs of hot cocoa, waiting until spring blossoms with the inevitable rebirth of flowers and color. Sounds like the perfect cinematic scene, right? Wrong. The equestrian’s winter typically bears little resemblance throughout most of the day, except those rare occurrences where chores may be complete.
Rather than that picturesque depiction, it is muddy horses wearing manure stained blankets. The ground threatens to suck boots off, enveloped in layers of thick mud when the temperature ventures above freezing and thaws the snow. When the temperatures inevitably plummet, pits and canyons of frozen ground create problematic footpaths, dangerous for both horse and human to traverse. It is snow trapped in horse’s hooves and shoes that makes it nigh impossible to walk. It is sheets of ice that relegate horses to stalls, where they then decide they would rather behave like wild heathens. And for the rider it is frozen toes, numb hands and a red nose and ears whilst unable to move underneath laughable layer upon layer of clothes. Yet, year after year countless equestrians select this winter (unless they wisely decide to live in an environment entirely devoid of snow) and somehow prevent going completely berserk.
There are a few ways to avoid snow without moving away from it. Those scarce available include copious amounts of cash such as radiant heating or building an indoor compound. A less capital draining method to keep warm is to dress for the winter weather, though it is decidedly less pleasant. Here are some ways to do so: these tips are gathered and tested from someone who may hate winter more than most.
First and foremost; wear layers. Despite what non-equestrians say, riding is a lot of work. When riding and cleaning stalls, it is easy to build up a sweat and as it cools, the entire body will chill. What keeps the body warm at a walk will be too hot at a walk or gait. Shedding that bulk as heat builds will prevent sweat, which will in turn keep the rider from freezing after the cool down session.
Recommended layers at frigid temperatures include:
- Long underwear
- Fleece lined breeches
- Thermal socks
- Approved insulated boots
Adjust accordingly with the temperature. It may be overkill to wear the all the above mentioned items if it is a breezy 50 degrees.
It has a very silly name, but a very important purpose. These base layers provide a lot of heat retention, but also wick away moisture, which can cause the body to grow cold. Many companies spend vast amounts of money in research on how to keep the athlete warm – utilize this knowledge. There are many different options, from the basic and cheap thermals, to the more popular and expensive Underarmor base layers. Underarmor offers different levels depending on what climate they will be used in, or in this instance, how cold blooded the rider is. They are not bulky, even at the heaviest layer (remember, person who despises the cold here), have lasted two seasons with regular use and still look brand new. They pair very well under the next category: fleece lined breeches.
Fleece Lined Breeches
No matter what discipline the rider is, these breeches are amazing. A word of warning however: entirely fleece breeches or pants are not recommended if doing barn chores or grooming horses, as hair, straw, shavings, and the family cat sticks to them. The nice thing about lined breeches is they will keep the warmth in with a protective layer. They can also be purchased as water resistant on the outside, which helps when it is snowing or the wind is blowing. Some riders are able to wear this alone. This writer is not among them, and is quite thankful not to live in Alaska or other bitter climates. Not all breeches are created equal, and quite often quality costs. Pictured here are the Kerrits Sit Tight ‘N Warm Full Seat Breeches, which does pill some where they meet the saddle, but does wore well over the past three years otherwise.
Cold toes seem to seep warmth from the rest of the body and sap energy. There are several types, and as many different people who swear by those individual blends. Wool tends to scratch some, but does wick moisture. Wool blends are less bulky, but are not always as warm. It can be trial and error to find a brand that works, but wool blends are a staple around the barn here. They are usually Carhartt brand, who make fantastic winter wear.
Approved winter boots
Approved is the first part of this title to emphasize the point. When one rides in particular, thick winter boots are not safe to ride in. If a horse dislodges the rider, bulky shoes can be trapped in the stirrup, and this is an enormous safety hazard. Many insulated boots on the market are specifically made for riding and are well worth the investment; a little extra money initially can prevent a costly ER visit later.
If only doing barn chores, that opens even more possibilities. There are a myriad from muck boots to sheepskin-lined boots. Pictured here are the Dublin Eskimo River boots, which are waterproof and quite warm. If using thick winter socks, remember to account for that. There is nothing worse than to purchase a pair of boots, only to find out they don’t fit once socks are worn! It may be worth it to have a pair of barn boots and switch into normal riding boots to ride if not wanting to invest in two separate pairs of insulated shoes.
Scarves are a beautiful fashion accessory and keep the neck warm. Plummeting temperatures do not mean that the equestrian needs to be dreary and poorly dressed, though it is an excellent excuse if they would rather be. With infinity scarves and other different styles and fibers, find a type that suits best.
Gloves keep fingers from frostbite and hands from losing dexterity. The go-to gloves in this barn are Sub Zero gloves, but there are other, less thick gloves for riding. Find one that is thick and has insulation but is comfortable enough to use for barn chores and holding reins and prevent one from being lost at a critical time. It may also be worth it to invest in two pairs – a thicker pair for chores and a thinner pair for riding.
Earmuffs, Headbands, and other headwear assist in keeping the ears warm, another place that is vulnerable to the cold. There are helmet covers that go over the helmet and fasten under the chin to keep heat from escaping. If not wearing a helmet, choose a type that fits best. There are simple headbands, ones that cover the entire head, ones with a fuzzy ball on top and braided edges down the side, and more. Avoid ones that dangle down too far, as a horse might grab them playfully and yank, or they may be hung in a piece of machinery such as a tractor or a gate.
Jackets are as diverse as the equine community itself. There are “in” styles, types designed for rugged wear, waterproof, insulated, high tech, and everything in between. It can be trial and error to find a style and cut that works for the rider. The equine world does not necessarily have to be the place to buy the jacket, but they may have the type best cut for movement when riding. For instance, a pea coat may be adorable but tight in the shoulders when attempting to groom a horse or mount them, unless the jacket is very large. It depends on whether the rider would prefer to be a fashionista in the barn, or prefer to go with what is warm and works on what the budget needs to be. Carrharts last a while, and provide a thick insulated style provided the wearer does not mind looking a bit fluffier than normal.
The fashion police will not descend upon any equestrian who does not appear to slink out of the pages of a catalogue. Any style winter jacket will do. The most important step is ensure said jacket is fitted to the body, that way it won’t catch on the saddle, particularly if riding western. Stories abound of riders being hung on the saddle by the horn, dangling helplessly off the ground. Sometimes the horses stand until the fabric rips or the rider untangles themselves. Others are not as lucky, and the horse bolts or spectacularly removes the rider in a similar fashion and may cause injury. Either ensure the jacket is not zipped, or keep them close fitted.
Canvas style jackets are not typically waterproof, though they can be with fairly easily. There are cans of waterproofing spray readily available that can also be used to re-water proof blankets for pennies on the dollar. Spray them evenly in a well-ventilated area, let dry, and then add a second coat once dry. Remember to let them air out, or else be prepared for a quite unpleasant odor!
When to Buy
The best time to purchase winter wear is in the off-season. People and horses are shedding coats and preparing for warmer weather and the sun. By prepping early and putting the items aside, more items will be able to be purchased for less.
By investing in quality items, being comfortable outside in less than stellar weather conditions will be a little easier. Losing less heat by wearing layers and having gloves and socks will keep the body warm, and then being able to remove the layers as the rider expends any energy will prevent them from sweating and then chilling afterwards. Warm socks and boots will prevent frozen toes, which are absolutely miserable. After chores are done, then it is time to enjoy that picture perfect scene, hot chocolate and all.